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Monday, September 30, 2013

Dark Crystal

Starting tomorrow, the Jim Henson Company will be accepting applications for the next Dark Crystal novelist.  You can read all about it on their website, linked above.  They will continue to accept applications until the end of December.

Now, I have to admit, I have not written anything down yet, but I have been researching.  The world of Thra (the name of the Planet that the stories take place on) has a history far beyond what we see in the movie.  For instance, Thra is never mentioned by name, the Mystics are actually known as the UrRu, and the creatures that the Skeksis and UrRu make up are known as the UrSkeks.  Each of the Skeksis and UrRu have a name and a job.  Aughra is more than simply an astrologer.

In order to write in the world of the Dark Crystal, or in any world, an author must have mastery of the world itself.  S/he needs to know everything - even if that knowledge is never used directly in the novel.  The knowledge in and of itself can lend subtle additions and change word use and diction.  The author will gain confidence that would not otherwise be there.  It may well be the difference between a great novel and an astounding one.

Towards this end, the Henson Company has filled the Dark Crystal website with information intended to fuel would-be authors with all they need.  And I will admit, it has certainly been a large help.  But I realized right away that some details, important ones, were missing.

One of the central characters in the history of Thra is Aughra's son, Raunip.  He is, of course, quite absent in the movie, and, as far as I know, this absence is never explained.  There are no examples on the website of how he speaks, which is something we we should be aware of considering that his mother does not follow the standard rules of grammar herself.  So, I decided to take it upon myself to purchase The Dark Crystal Creation Myths, vol 1.  This book has been truly eye-opening.  I am, however, realizing that I need to know more than this volume allows.  I have ordered the 2nd volume, but the 3rd is not yet available, which means there is a part of the history of Thra that the authors will not know.  There are other books as well, but I fear that I will not have the time or money to purchase them and read them before I must have a good portion of the 10,000 word minimum story completed.

Thankfully, I have gained a lot of confidence, and there are other sources to consider.  I have begun to form some plots in my mind, but forgive me if I do not indulge you with specifics.  This is, after all, a contest, and I will need every edge that I can find.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

State of things

I must say, I am thoroughly enjoying writing short stories every week or so.  I think it is a wonderful way to keep the creative juices flowing and to learn how to force yourself to maintain them.  Now, I don't know if I'm a "good" writer.  I've been told I am, but I usually think my writing is crap.  I've had friends who win awards, while I haven't won anything.  And I rarely get comments one way or another on my stories.  Perhaps this is just due to my small audience.

My audience is something I am excited about, however.  I've started to advertise on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, FridayFlash.org, and DeviantArt.  Even with a 2-week gap in posts, September has been my most-watched month yet!  I am always up to learning how to get the word out more, how to increase my audience.  If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

I started off getting about 20 people reading my posts, and I didn't make too many posts. Now I make at least one post a week, with a consistent audience of about 60 people on posting day.  Here's hoping I can get more.

Though, for the life of me, I have no idea why this is my most popular post...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Last Song

"It was a witch.  She was supposed to be just another mark, an easy target.  Me and my crew had been in town for a few weeks 'cause the pressure was on.  We needed it to die down a bit before we returned to the port.  Turns out someone fingered the ship and, before you know it, word gets out that there's a bounty on our heads.  Now, it's not a big bounty, nothing to brag about at the watering hole, but it was enough to attract the more… desperate men out there.  And desperate men are often the most dangerous.

"So me and the lads were getting low on cash.  Some of 'em thought to earn a wage, but what self-respecting pirate would do that?  We've all tried getting work; that's why we're pirates!  It pays!  So a 'Proper' Job is in order, and we found one: an old lady, lives on her own, likes to help others, if a bit eccentric.  The way I figure it, you've got a right to some eccentricities if you've made it that far in life.  Well, we had heard that she was "special."  That she could do magic.  I'm not one to believe old wives' tales, but sailors can be a superstitious lot.  The men were nervous, but we were getting desperate, and desperate men…

"Four of us volunteered.  There was Fletcher, Crow, Red, and myself.  It was supposed to be: in, grab what we could, and out.  Pawn anything valuable in the town over and we're home free.  Heck, magic stuff might even fetch a little more.  But it didn't work that way.

"By the time we got in, it was already too late.  Her whole house was just a trap... an illusion.  To be honest, I'm not even sure anything was there at all.  We decided to go in the back door, just in case someone was watching.  Red went in first.  He walked in… and then he was just gone, like the blackness swallowed him up.  Fletcher and I went in after him.  Crow, he's out lookout.  Hangs out in the Crow's Nest, see?  Well, Fletcher and I couldn't find him.  Everywhere we looked there was nothing to steal.  No food, no clothes, no coin, no nothing.  Nothing, that is, but a book.  It was covered in writing that I'd never seen before, and just sitting on a table in the middle of the room.  I figure it had to be worth something.

"Before I got to it, though, Crow came in.  Someone was coming – probably the old lady.  Well, I grabbed the book and ran for it, but my feet wouldn't move.  That's when she walked in.

"At first there was just silence.  All three of us saw her walk into the room, like a spirit or a ghost.  Her clothes were transparent, and so was her skin, all the way to her bone.   Then, we heard music.  Each of us, something else.  We talked about it later, and we agree that none of us heard the same thing.  'Fools,' she said, like she was straight out of a fairy tale.  'Fools, you should not have come here.  You seek knowledge beyond your ken, and now you shall have it!'  Of course, I wasn't seeking knowledge, I just wanted some quick cash.

"My feet come loose, and I assume theirs did to with how fast we all moved.  Suddenly we were making a made dash for the door, but we weren't getting any closer to it.  The music, though, was getting louder.  'Remember it well. for this is the last song you shall ever hear!'  That was it.  She said that, and then the house was gone, and we were standing on the street with a bundle of rags in my arms.

"And that's it, that's my story.  Well, most of it.  You see, Red was there with us, but he was never the same.  He never talked about what he saw, or what he heard.  In fact, he never talked again.  That night we were walking back to the ship and we hear a bar tune from a pub.  He gets all nervous and runs away from it, but he tripped and rolled down a hill into a river.  Poor sap drowned.  Crow thinks he did it on purpose.

"It didn't take us long to realize that those songs we heard were the last ones we would ever hear, just maybe not right away.  Fletcher said that his song was the same as the one in the pub, so when we got back to the ship he… well, let's just say he doesn't hear so well anymore.  Crow.. well, Crow's a nervous wreck.  He doesn't want anyone to know what his song is, so if he ever hears someone singing, he starts to sing 'Merry old Elf' over and over."

"What about you, Captain?" the old salt asked, giving a toothless grin across the small round table that had been stained with the rings of a thousand ales.

"Me?  Oh, everyone knows what my song is," he said as he stood up from the table and grabbed his hat.  "It's a lullaby, one I heard when I was a kid."

"How do you handle knowing that it will be the last song you hear before you die?  Wouldn’t' that drive you mad?"

The captain gave a suave grin.  "Of course not.  I do hope my tale was worth the drink," he said, fixing his hat on his head.  He then bowed and sauntered away from the table to the pub door, whistling a lullaby all the while.

Monday, September 23, 2013


The place, London.  The Year, 2013.  AD.

It was my first time overseas.  The only other time I'd even been out of the country was to visit Vancouver, but let's face it, Canada is more like Diet USA.  If you have never had the opportunity to go to England, I recommend it, but there are a few things you may not be aware of.

When we arrived, I wasn't expecting everything to be so... small.  From the toilets (loo, water closet, restroom, bathroom, privies... I'm not sure what to call them any longer), to the reasonable serving sizes, to the hotel rooms, everything was smaller.  I figure that they have less space, so they are just forced to become more efficient with it, even if that means placing a urinal 7 inches from the only small sink in the bathroom.  They also do not seem to be great believers in paper towels, preferring instead to use small blow driers that take about a fortnight to warm up.

British money is different as well.  When I got mine exchanged, I received change, which I later found out to be about $20 in just a few coins.  They use coins much more frequently, and in fact cash is much more common than credit cards.  Although I believe US dollars are better-looking, I prefer the British coinage (the 2-pounder is quite the looker).  By using coins, I think it is psychologically easier to pay for things.  It's not 5 pounds; it's just a bit of change.

We did a lot of walking in our time in England.  Since everything is smaller, everything is also closer.  London is set up with "The Tubes" to make it easier to walk around the city, I'm convinced, while American cities really have subways because you're likely to kill yourself if you have to deal with the traffic.  We walked so much, my feet developed blisters and I wore through my "new" shoes.  But because everything is closer, it's easier for you to find what you want.  I didn't have to "go downtown" to find entertainment, a pub, live music, a park.  It was already within walking distance, no matter where I stood.

The first thing we did, however, was go to Stratford-Upon-Avon, by train, upon which I was told quite kindly by a little old lady to not put my feet on the train seat because other people sit there.  I, of course, nodded and said, "Oh yes, of course," as if this was a revelation to me.  I was a foreigner, after all.  Here in America, we don't sit on our train seats, we use them as tables and porta-potties.  The English countryside is... very English.  Lots of sheep, big rolling hills separated by hedges and lines of trees, and more sheep.  Lamb is actually affordable in England and well worth it.  Beef, however, is not.  I'm fairly certain my hamburger was never actually alive.  Our "Bed & Breakfast" was very nice, but hardly what I was expecting (a large hotel with attached pub and restaurant that is part of a chain.  It was only later that I discovered the OTHER B&Bs there, which I will have to look into when we return).  We wandered around the town, found Shakespeare's birthplace, discovered his church and burial place, and went to see one of his plays (All's Well That Ends Well) as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The play was very awesome and very well done, though it did leave me wondering...  What the HELL does Helena see in that guy?!

After our lovely visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon, we trained back to London (and along the way learned the the British are never allowed to complain about how the French spell things.  The French may have silent letters, but the British have silent suffices!) and stormed the town.  We got the London Pass so we could see a bunch of stuff, but soon realized that the London Pass is only worth the money if you either do not spend a lot of time at any one thing, or you plan out your day meticulously to make sure you do not miss a second of revelry.  We got to see Westminster Palace, Elizabeth Tower (Big Ben is the bell that is inside the tower, not the tower itself), Westminster Abbey, The London Eye, St. Paul's Cathedral,  The Millennium Bridge, The Royal Observatory at Greenwich, Trafalgar Square, Queen's Walk, Shakespeare's Globe*, The Tower*, The Tower Bridge*, a Canoe Race, and a bunch of graffiti.  And there's still so much more to see!!!  (*only seen from the outside)

Here I would like to talk about the hotel rooms for a moment.  In England there are a few things they do that we in America might not be used to.  Of course, there are the plugs.  England uses 220V, three-pronged outlets that are quite large.  You probably knew that.  But what you might not know is that every single outlet I ever saw while in the UK had a switch as part of it.  Plugging in the vacuum?  Bend over and turn on the outlet.  Clock? Turn on the outlet. TV?  Turn on the outlet.  Even the automatic hand driers were just plugged in to these outlets.
And if you are bringing an electric shaver, all the hotel bathrooms had outlets just for them (which accommodate both US and British shavers, for both voltages).
The hotel rooms also all had a little key-card holder, but it's not really a holder.  You need to put your keycard in these little things to have the power on in your room!  It was unusual at first, but now I think it is ingenious - a great way to make sure the power isn't left on when no one is there.
Can't find a place that serves tea at 4?  Well, chances are your hotel room has it.  Each one I was in had a small tray that included an electric kettle, a selection of teas, two mugs, sugar, shelf-stable milk, and a biscuit of some kind.  I thought it was rather nice, except for the one at the Hilton, which never cleaned out the kettle.
Also, apparently air conditioning is not as ubiquitous in England as it is here.  Make sure your hotel room has it... and that it works (Room 503 at the Hilton did not have it functional even after the repairman came by to fix it).
Oh, and soap is rare.  They do provide bar soap for your hands, but all the showers were equipped with body wash instead.  It's the little things that you remember.

The only caveat I have about London is thieves.  I was shaken a bit to see signs posted all over telling you that pickpockets were on the loose.  I was nervous and kept tapping my pockets to make sure nothing had been taken from them (I always put my wallet in my front pocket, because if a hand goes in THERE I'm much more likely to feel it).  We used a day-hike backpack that had straps to tighten the pack against my back.  Those straps conveniently fit over the zippers, so it would be nigh-impossible for anyone to unzip the thing without me knowing it right away.  But I was still very aware of the space around me.  Thankfully (or perhaps because of our precautions?) we were not picked.

After London, we headed down to Brighton for my wife's conference.  We were there for a while, and I spent most of the days similarly.  I got to hang out with a bunch of guys my age and hit the over 300 pubs that dot the city.  That's right, 300 in about 5 square miles.  They have lanes in Brighton called "twittens" that are extremely narrow (two people could not pass each other on them without involving acrobatics), but they are definitely not "alleys."  You wouldn't find apartments, shops, and restaurants down some alley, but you will find them down twittens.  The Lanes is a maze of twittens that are a bit wider and include very high-end shopping.  But, I'm getting ahead of myself.  Because the days ran together a bit, I'll just lump all of Brighton into a stream-of-consciousness.

Brighton was quite lovely, but I wouldn't really go for the beach (even though that's what it is known for).  The beach at Brighton is, quite literally, pebbles.  And not small ones that you can pretend are sand.  They range from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a fist.  There is NO SAND (Brighton Rock is not just a candy), and walking on these rocks is difficult and tiring.  But listening to them wash against each other is very relaxing.  There is also no surf.  Waves are about 2 inches large when they "break" and only go about 6 inches before they retreat back into the Channel.  I wonder how the surf shop stays in business.
Apparently the beach is quite different in a storm, however.  There used to be three piers in Brighton.  One got knocked out by a storm in the early 1900s.  Another got damaged heavily by one hurricane in the 1970s and another in 2002, then burned down in 2003 (arson is suspected, perhaps the last remaining pier didn't like the competition?).  Here's hoping the last one stays up!
The city is a great place to go shopping, to go bar hopping, to go to a club, to see some history, and to listen to great live music.  I haven't been there during the big summer season, but I can't imagine there's a lot more to do there at that time, as the beach, to me, was not terribly tempting.

A friend and I walked the city several times and even took a walking tour (again, my poor shoes).  I learned about The Cricketers, where one of the prime suspects for Jack the Ripper claimed to have dined after returning from a London killing.  It is also the oldest continually operating pub in Brighton (1547).  I learned about the street art scene.  I heard AMAZING buskers (which are quite common) and live musicians.  I learned about the only police chief to be murdered in the UK.  And I even took a tour of the Royal Pavilion.
The Pavilion was the home of George IV, Prince Regent.  He was a womanizer and indulger of ind wines and food.  But he also loved illusions and surprises.  The outside of the Pavilion looks like something vaguely from India... the first few rooms are vaguely Chinese and somewhat drab.  But open the door to the banquet hall and you are treated to a 12-foot long silver dragon spewing flame from the ceiling above you, gripping a 1 metric tonne chandelier of some 1500 crystals in its talons.  Around it are wall paintings reaching the ceiling 20 or so feet up, depicting chinese scenes.  Gold and silver and jade and gas lights and mirrors and copper surround you.  It was pure extravagance and a very good example of royal decadence.  If you have the chance to go, I HIGHLY recommend touring the inside.

One night, while bar hopping with my new friends, we discovered the Seven Stars pub, which quickly became our favorite.  It is the oldest established pub in Brighton (1535), but lost its distinction to the Cricketers when it burned down and was rebuilt.  This pub always had something going on, from great live music (jazz, swing, etc) to movie nights to open mic.  The people were very friendly, very welcoming, and very fun.  And they had my new favorite beer on tap, London Meantime Yakima Red.
A note about beers.  Yes, beer in England tends to be room temperature or a bit cooler (not "warm" as you are told).  This is not a bad thing.  More flavor comes out as things get warmer, so English beer has to be high quality so that it is not only palatable, but delicious at room temperature.  It might take you a few drinks to get used to your beer not being ice cold, but trust me, it's worth getting used to.  Also, you CAN find cold beer in England (which they usually advertise as cold).  Lagers tend to be cold as well, since they are brewed at colder temperatures.  In my opinion, beer in the UK is not as strong as it* is in the states, nor is it as hoppy or bitter (in general).  I've also come to the conclusion that the closer you get to St. James's Gate, the better Guinness becomes.  Cider is big in the UK (Strongbow is a popular name).  There, it doesn't have the same stigma that it still holds here, the stigma that if I drink a hard cider, I'm not as much of a man.  Cider in the UK is delicious.  If cider is your secret garden of delight, rest assured that you can partake of it freely in the British Isles. (*"it" refers to good beer, craft beer, not the pig swill that Anheuser-Bush InBev and MillerCoors produce)

A few more tips about England.  Candy.  I was on the hunt during my entire trip.  I love Cadbury, but I heard that it is quite different in England than here in the States, because Hershey's makes it here.  My favorite chocolate bar of all time is Cadbury Royal Dark, which is astounding even here in the states.  But, unfortunately, no one I talked to had ever heard of it.  However, I did rediscover some old favorites (which I had only been able to get from import shops here), things like Double Deckers, Flake (which they really DO put on ice cream, even ice cream cones they sell you), Maltesers, and Cadbury Fruit and Nut.  There are candy shops everywhere, and their selections are excellent.  If you want a humbug, go with the golden humbugs (cost more, but worth it).  And if you want a decent price for candy bars, get away from the tourist areas and find where the locals shop, like a grocery store.  I got my candy at 1/4 the price I would pay elsewhere (one pound for 4)!!

Food in Brighton is quite good, and there are over 500 restaurants to chose from!  Hard to believe until you see how they squeeze them into every corner and cranny.  It used to be that England was known for high tea and crappy food, but not any longer.  It has evolved into one of the best places to eat in the world.  And the world is just what you can find.  We ate Indian, Irish, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Nordic, Japanese, Greek, British, American... and there were shops for Ethiopian, Pakistani, Turkish, Spanish...  We were not for want of excellent cuisine.

Another brief comment on money.  I found that prices are about equivalent for items in pounds as they are in dollars.  That is to say, if I want a good gourmet burger, I'll pay about 9 to 10 dollars for it in the states and about 9 to 10 pounds across the pond.  I think this might be because almost everything has to be imported, plus there is the 20% VAT.  The VAT (Value Added Tax) is on everything you buy, but some larger stores will offer a VAT rebate program where you can get the money back if you bring a voucher to customs at the airport.
If you are traveling via rail, purchase your tickets well in advance.  We were able to get tickets to and from Brighton for about 5 pounds each, while if we had waited the price would have gone up to well over 25 or even 45 pounds each (depending on how sold out the trains got).  Do yourself a favor, save your money, and order them in advance (even if you need to pay long distance for a brief phone call).

My wife and I spent many days together in Brighton, though she admittedly spent most of the days in her conference.  And yet, there was still more to see and do.  A castle should be next on our list.  Brighton is the kind of place where you could just lose yourself and never want to leave.  On the last day, we bought souvenirs of our trip in England - hats.  My wife is quite cute in hers, and I daresay I look rather capital in my new bowler.  I have a feeling we will return to England someday.

So, I hope this random, haphazard accounting of the events of our travels helps you with your travels to England.  And if not, then I hope it was at least entertaining.  Cheers!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


As some of you may know, my wife and I just moved.  Within 2 weeks of our move, however, our Jenn-Air wall oven had a break-down.  We had baked dinner and the door refused to shut all the way when my wife took the food out.  She couldn't figure out why.  When she tried to shut it again, it did indeed shut, but the locking mechanism had caught and the oven door refused to open, nor would the oven go into "baking" mode.

Now, I had called someone to try to handle the situation, and he got the oven to open, but that was it.  Anything else required a part.  He told me the oven was suck in "self-cleaning" mode and wouldn't bake or unlock.  Before the part arrived, however, I remembered that we have a home warranty through Home Warranty of America (henceforth called HWA).  I canceled the ordered and called HWA.  They sent out a man through the company they contract through, Julie's Used Appliances.

It took a little longer than I had hoped for the man to show up, but he did show up and told me that the oven's faceplate needed to be replaced.  He didn't mention the lock or the self-cleaning mode.  He said he'd call me back later that day to tell me that he ordered the part and how much it would be.  A week later I called Julie's to find out why I hadn't been contacted yet.  The girl who answered the phone proclaimed to be the girl who does all the "cleaning."  Her words.  She didn't know anything (so, why did she answer the phone?).  I then called HWA, who ALSO didn't know anything, because Julie's hadn't yet gotten in touch with them.  An hour later, HWA calls me back and tells me that Julie's didn't bother getting in touch with them because they were going to cover the cost of the faceplate in the $75 I already paid them.  Huzzah!

Two days later, HWA calls me back rather late at night.  It turns out that there was more wrong with the oven, which Julie's didn't tell me about.  The *gasp* locking mechanism needed to be fixed.  Who could have guessed?  And THAT part they don't cover.  Why?  Because it is part of the self-cleaning mode.  I guess they don't consider child safety to be important.

At this point we've been without an oven for 2 weeks.  If you know me and my family, we like to cook, which includes baking things in the oven.  I called Julie's first thing the next morning and spoke the the guy who looked at the oven, but he was in a rush and said he would call me back in half an hour or so.  Several hours later I called back and got the cleaning girl again.  I told her to leave a message for the repairman - to go ahead and order the locking mechanism part even though it isn't covered.

A week later and I finally get a call saying the guy is on his way.  I ask him about the locking mechanism and he acts like he's never heard of this.  Obviously he didn't get the message.  So he doesn't show up after all and instead orders the locking mechanism part.  I told him that I had to leave in a week to go out of town, and I gave him the number of my in-laws who would be home.

Let's skip ahead.  My wife and I are getting off the plane back in the states and we plug our phones in for the first time in 10 days (we didn't have a data or calling plan for the UK and didn't want to be billed for roaming, so we took out the batteries).  Lo and behold, I have a message from Julie's saying he'll be at our house.  Guess that even though I left the message of whom to call with him, he still didn't get it.

The day before he had come by to fix the oven (I guess it took that long to get the part).  But when he does, he apparently discovered that the board was fried.  So he replaced the faceplate, but nothing else. The oven still doesn't work, and now the faceplate he replaced is fuzzy and unreadable.  It was at this point that I got angry.  I wrote an email to HWA, telling them what had happened and urging them to reconsider their contractors.  I also reviewed the company online, stating only what had happened and that I am very dissatisfied.  This post, which you may hopefully agree is not much more than a factual account of what had happened, is more opinionated than the review I left.

Today I called them and wanted to know what was up.  My in-laws told me that they were supposed to be here on Monday, but that was two days ago, so I wanted to know if they would ever show up to fix the oven.  The woman who answered the phone told me she would call me back and that she would get in touch with the repairman.  Now, I told her that I was dissatisfied, and that no one had EVER called me back, so I hope she can understand my position of doubt that I would hear from her.  Amazingly, she did call me back.  Apparently she read my review.

"I see you wrote about us.  hmm.. I don't know what that's gonna get you..."  These are HER words.
"Are you blackmailing me?"
"Blackmail?  I don't think this is blackmail."
"Refusing to do service or charging me more because I am a dissatisfied customer and left a factual review supporting this sounds like blackmail to me."

She said she would have a guy here tomorrow.  Now we'll see what happens.  Apparently we should not review people online until we are done dealing with them.  But, apparently, she doesn't understand that, as the customer, I am not going to lay down and take what she's dishing out anymore.  HWA doesn't cover the repair, so if her company deals poorly with me any longer, I am going back to the first guy.

What do you think?  Is it blackmail?  I understood her comment as asking me subtly to remove the review, so you could see removing the review as the thing she is strong-arming me to do.

Friday, September 6, 2013


There is very little in your life that doesn't change when you have a child.  Even the minutiae of the everyday grind can alter to the point that you question things you once thought you had firmly established in your life.  Children can make you give up on a dream or take on a new one, quit a job you once loved to spend more time at home, inspire you to inspire them.  This is not entirely surprising; the surprising thing is just how fast this happens.

In 2011, my life changed in the span of a breath.  We were expecting a baby, but nothing can really prepare you for what you are about to face.  I thought I understood this, so I tried not to form any premature ideas of what life would be like with a kid.  Of course there were the obvious changes.  I'd have to change diapers, clean up vomit, lose a lot of sleep, and not curse when my kid is around.  Then there were the things I came to realize only after thinking about it for a while longer, things like not getting to go on as many dates with my wife, having to be a role model, not getting to play video games very often any longer, not cursing when my kid isn't around.  But beyond that, I tried not to over-prepare and instead wanted to take things as they came.

My wife's parents had come to visit for a week, hoping to be there for her when "the time" came.  But the week came and passed and she showed no signs of labor, even false labor.  Of course, the day they left the contractions began.  We were at home, studying up on what to expect and how to have a "painless" childbirth.  Instead of taking Lamaze classes, we had opted for an alternative, the Bradley Method, which is much more informed and informing about natural childbirth.  However, we missed the deadline for those classes, so instead we learned "Hypnobabies."  The idea is to induce self-hypnosis to eliminate pain.  It was fine and dandy on paper, but in action that is difficult stuff to do, particularly for someone who is a natural-born skeptic and scientist.  We had struggled with classes, with practice, with trying bring my wife into a hypnotic state while I was actively editing the error-ridden script I had to read out loud to her every day.  And now we didn't have time for practice; the day had come.  The first thing I did was call the midwife.  The second was call her parents to come back.

I told my wife to find her switch… to turn it to the "middle."  This was to tell her to "shut off" all nerves in her torso… except she was still allowed to move when needed.  My wife wondered how she could move or breathe without her nerves off, always the critical thinker.  We never did ask the instructor.  The midwife was trying to act calm, but after 12 hours with no progress and 5 hot showers for my wife, the stress was starting to form cracks in her veneer. More hours passed and we ended up on the bed.  18 hours of labor and my wife was in the final stages, but the baby made no progress.  I suggested that we try a new position.  At this point all thought of hypnobabies was gone.  All I could do was hold her hand tightly and remind her to breathe deeply between the contractions that turned my wife's face violet.  I felt that perhaps I was failing as a father already because we were unable to have a pain-free birth as we had planned, like the couples on so many of the videos we were shown.  When my wife rolled over, things, however, moved fast, and those thoughts, too, were gone.

When the midwife was talking in a calming voice, despite the stress, it was soothing.  When she spoke faster, more urgently, it became alarming.  But when she fell completely silent, my heart stopped.  The baby came out, the cord tangled around her neck.  Her blue and purple body was limp and lifeless.  I don't know how long the midwife and doula worked on her before my wife started to encourage our baby.  "Come on, Adelaide, breathe!  You can do it!"  We were both in tears over someone we hadn't really met yet.  Another minute passed before the midwife placidly, yet firmly, commanded me to call 911.  To this day, I've never run so fast in my life, but to me it felt like every second was another nail in my daughter's coffin.  4 and a half minutes had passed since Adelaide had been born, and she hadn't taken a single breath yet.  Hypnobabies meant nothing.  18 hours of labor meant nothing.  9 months of pregnancy meant nothing.  All the poopy diapers in the world were irrelevant.  The only thing that mattered was whether or not our child would breathe.  It didn't even matter if we could get her to breathe before her brain was permanently damaged.  I knew we only had around 4 minutes, total, before the damage started, but she was still our daughter and we still loved her.  We just needed her to breathe.  The paramedics arrived and set up their equipment.


We all shared in that one, first breath.

Gasp.  She struggled but her will was strong, something I have come to learn time and time again since that day.  Wheeze.  Every piece of my spirit and body felt such an intense reaction.  I was on a rollercoaster of fear and elation.  She was alive, and so was I for the first time.  The love I shared with my wife only bolstered it, so that everything was so much more intense than I had felt before.  That is what a child – life – does.  It makes everything more intense.  Even one breath.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Here are some interesting facts and figures about money.

According to our government, there are 316 million Americans living.  We've all heard about the infamous 1%, that 1 in a 100 which owns more than 40 in that same 100 combined.  (Seriously, check out these links, watch the full video, you will be shocked).  But 1 in 100 is not that infrequent.  I know more than 100 people, I run into more than that many on the street when I go out.  Granted, I doubt I'm in the crowd where I'm likely to meet the super rich, but you get my point.  There are 3,160,000 people in that 1% category.

So let's look a little further.  There are 3 million in the top 1%, controlling 20% of the nation's income, but there are only 316,000 in the top 0.1%.  That's better.  How much do THEY make?  About 10% of the nation's wealth.  On average, they are making ten times more than the rest of the 1%.  Well then, let's look at the top 0.01%, only 31,600 Americans!  They earn 5% of the nation's income... that's 100 times more than the rest of the 1%.  So now let's look at the 0.0000003%. Bill Gates.

Now, I'm not saying Bill Gates is a bad man.  Sure, his business has had some "interesting" practices and he has done some rather underhanded things to earn that money, but what CEO hasn't?  Through the Gates Foundation, he and his wife have donated over $28 billion to fund amazing and often life-saving projects around the world.  He doesn't want his kids to inherit the money, because he wants them to work and earn money.  Now, it's hard to say just how much his net worth is.  When you're talking that level of income, an exact number is nearly impossible to pin down.  But the 2013 World's Richest Man was estimated by Bloomberg to be worth about $72 billion.  Even the Gates Foundation isn't a drop in that kind of bucket.

So, let's see what this means.  If he could make all of his net worth fluid, Gates could give everyone in the world a big mac, fries, and a coke, and still have enough money to fund the Gates Foundation all over again.  He could provide the bottom 1% of American households with over $600,000 each.  That's more money than they would see in their entire lives.  If he put this in a normal savings account that earned just 0.1% interest, his interest alone would be $72,000,000/year, or $197,000/day.

Suppose Bill Gates wanted to get rid of all of the money he has before he dies, assuming he makes no more.  He estimates he will live another 20 years, putting him at 77, about the average lifespan of an American male.  Hell, he could put $2 billion aside just in case he lives longer.  To get rid of $70 billion in 20 years, he would have to spend $9.5 million/day.  That's $400,000/hour, $6600/minute, $110/sec.  Get the drift?  He could pay for a kid's complete college education in a matter of minutes.  If we gave him a million dollars a year, it would take over 70,000 years for him to earn what he has... far longer than history has been recorded.

But that's not all.  Let's see how little you make.  Let's say Maya earns a good salary of $100,000/year, take-home.  That's a great amount of money, even for a family.  enough to live comfortably on.  She could work for 700,000 years and still not have as much.  Let's give Maya some friends... she is in a community of 100 people who all earn $100,000/year and pool their money together.  This would sound like a strong group of movers and shakers!  This group still needs 7,000 years.  The average American makes about $57,000/year, which is actually less than half what Maya does (hers is take-home pay).  Perhaps we should all humble ourselves a little and change how we think of income.  We aren't making $50,000/year, we're making 1.4-million-years-to-Gates.

Of course, with the inflation rate, you'll be further from today than we are from the dinosaurs before you earn anything close to what he has.

This is just a thought experiment, but I hope it shows you something.  There is such a huge disparity between how much we have and how much the rich have that we cannot hope to understand it, let alone overcome it.  It is no secret that the middle class is dying.  So, if you are one of the 1%, or 0.0001%, or even 0.0000003% (I hope you're doing well, Mr. Gates), perhaps you will look at this and make a change.  Because the rest of us don't have the kind of power you do.